Hitler, Saddam, Castro, Guevara and Chavez: Palestinians cope with loaded names

Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967 in a move never recognised by the international community. Jewish settlers moved into the territory and the occupation continues. Related News

Hitler, Castro and Saddam Hussein meet in a bar. It may sound like the beginning of a joke, but in the Palestinian territories it is actually possible. Palestinians often name their children after famous celebrities, national heroes or backers of their cause.

But from time to time, they pick far more controversial names and the children have to live with the consequences. Hitler Abu Hamad is not proud to carry the name of a man responsible for the slaughter of millions. “There is no relationship between my name and the actions of ,” he told AFP at his home in the city of Hebron in the occupied West Bank. “I hate what he did.” How the quiet, polite 41-year-old school teacher came to be named after the most hated man of the 20th century says a lot about Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967 in a move never recognised by the international community. Jewish settlers moved into the territory and the occupation continues.

When Abu Hamad was born in 1976, his father wanted to send a message, though in perhaps the most offensive way possible: picking the name of the man who systematically murdered six million Jews in the Holocaust. “My father gave me the name to provoke the occupation,” he said. “He was not political. He wanted to make the occupation think with my name.”

The father-of-two studied English literature and is a deputy head at a school near his home, while also teaching adults. His name is “weird for the kids at school”, he said. He says it also causes him endless problems at Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank.

When he was 15 and living in Hebron’s Old City, an army officer approached him and asked him his name. When he told him, the soldier flew off the handle, he alleges. “He said ‘you are a criminal’,” Abu Hamad said, alleging he was then beaten by soldiers. Israel’s military did not respond to a request for comment.

He believes the name also stopped Israelis from giving him permits to study or work outside the Palestinian territories. “We are not against the Jews,” he said. “We are against the occupation and don’t respect it. It destroys our homes, confiscates our possessions and restricts our freedom.”  Many Palestinians have named children after their longtime leader Yasser Arafat, while other names heard include Castro, Guevara and Chavez — after the Latin American figures who supported their cause.

In Hebron, there is a Carter Abu Isneyna, named after former US president Jimmy Carter, who tried to get Israel to end the occupation and led the Camp David peace talks between Israel and Egypt. Qais Hussein Omar was born in 1976 under a different name — Saddam Hussein. He alleges he was regularly harassed at checkpoints by Israeli soldiers angered by his name, and was once hospitalised by a particularly brutal beating.

“My name was the source of psychological and physical suffering,” he said. In other countries, too, he faced issues and it all affected his health, so seven years ago he changed it.

He urges parents not to name their children after famous people as it “won’t fit the personality” “His name could be Yasser Arafat and he wants to become a ballet dancer.” In the city of Haifa in northern Israel, an Arab Israeli man is named after Jules Jammal, a Syrian military hero believed to have driven his boat into a French warship during the 1956 Suez crisis.

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